This Shabbat we read both the parshiyot Chukat and Balak. This is not a common occurrence and it happens only on a year when Shavuot falls on Erev Shabbat. Since Shavuot is celebrated in Eretz Yisrael for but one day, as the Torah requires, the second day of Shavuot celebrated in chu”l (“chutz la’aretz”) is marked in Israel as the Shabbat when Parshat Naso is read. Therefore, we must read two parshiyot this Shabbat in order to “catch up” to our brethren in Israel who will be reading only Parshat Balak this week. By doing this, we assure ourselves of reading next week’s parsha of Pinchas after the Fast of Tammuz, allowing us to fulfill the requirement of reading Parshat Devarim on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, Shabbat Chazon.
The haftarah reading is the one ordinarily read for Parshat Balak alone, a relatively short selection from Sefer Michah. The 17 pesukim that make up this week’s haftarah seem to have very little connection to the portion of Balak. Besides the mention of how Hashem protected Bnei Yisrael by undermining the scheme of Balak to curse them, there appears to be no other reason for its selection. Nonetheless, the words of Michah leave us with a number of messages that should command our attention and that deserve closer analysis. And, perhaps, we will find another reason for the choice of this haftarah.
The haftarah begins in the middle of the fifth perek of Michah. The beginning of that chapter describes the events that, according to almost all of the commentaries, depict the Messianic era. In describing the return of the exiled to the land, the navi states: “v’yeter echav y’shuvun al Bnei Yisrael,” “then the rest of his brethren will return with the Children of Israel.” In explaining this phrase, the Mahar”i Kara says that Michah is telling us how the people will endure intense suffering but in the end there will be a rebirth of the Jewish nation, a time when all will return to the land, never to be divided again. The words of the Mahar”i Kara should certainly awaken us to the significance of the events of this past century and bring us to the realization that the words of our prophets certainly do point the way for us today. It is also fair to suggest that, as our parsha ends with the tragic story of Israel’s sin that led to the loss of 24,000 lives, yet is followed within months with the entry to Eretz Yisrael, so too would this pattern be followed when our nation returns to the land during yemot haMashiach just as predicted in our haftarah.
But I believe there is yet another subtle but essential message we find in the words of Michah HaNavi. The prophet charges Israel to remember what Hashem had done for them in reversing the plan of Balak and the words of Bil’am. But how did Israel even know what God had done for them if they didn’t hear the words of Bil’am or know of the plan of Moav? It was only through the Torah written and taught by Moshe that they learned of the entire episode! Indeed, this might be why Chazal tell us that Parshat Balak—the entire Balak-Bil’am episode—is a separate section of the Torah, a separate book! And now, thousands of years later, we learn an essential truth regarding our survival: We really have no idea of how many times our enemies have plotted against us, planned to attack us or even wished to curse us! And, therefore, we have no idea how many times God has saved us. We only know of those miracles we saw—not of those hidden from us!
Chazal express this very idea when they ask why David HaMelech wrote (in Hallel): “Hal’lu et Hashem kol goyim… ki gavar aleinu chasdo.” Why, after all, should all other nations praise God because He was so merciful to the Jewish nation? And our rabbis explain that only the nations, those who tried to destroy us, truly know the plots and plans that God overturned and, therefore, only they can properly appreciate the miracles He wrought for us. We stand in amazement at the miracles we have seen, those Hashem performed for us. But how much more must we praise God for those miracles, “v’al nisecha sheb’chol yom imanu,” those wonders that accompany us every day, all day?
Truly an important lesson we must remember in all generations!
Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.